Green Buildings Gaining Ground

Michael Tucker mtucker@mba.org

October 25, 2018


The commercial real estate industry is making significant progress in reducing energy consumption, carbon emissions, water usage and waste disposal, reported the Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C.

ULI's Greenprint Performance Report benchmarks nearly 8,000 properties owned by Greenprint Center members that have committed to improving environmental performance. It found a 3.3 percent reduction in energy consumption, a 3.4 percent reduction in carbon emissions and a 2.9 percent reduction in water use between 2016 and 2017.

Buildings account for more than one-third of global climate-changing carbon emissions globally, ULI said. But Greenprint member firms are on track to exceed the targeted 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030, in line with the goals set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and ratified by the Paris Climate Accord. Last year marked the eighth consecutive year building performance has improved in terms of energy consumed and emissions reduced.

The emissions reduction last year equal 1.5 million trees planted, 12,600 cars taken off the road, 6,300 homes consuming no energy and 136,000 barrels of oil not consumed, the report said.

The report reflects the results of hundreds of practices building owners have undertaken to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Examples include:
--Installing high-efficiency equipment and controls. The most common improvement was installing high-efficiency HVAC equipment and controls. The report cited Tishman Speyer's installation of a chiller replacement and thermal ice storage project at 45 and 50 Rockefeller Center in New York. "Energy use dropped by 2.3 million kilowatt-hours and demand declined by 45 percent from the storage tie-in," the report said. "The payback on the system took only seven years."

--Waste reduction projects. The report mentioned 147 waste-reduction projects, including better understanding waste streams, new recycling containers to better organize waste rooms and tenant training on waste. For example, PGIM Real Estate, Newark, N.J., replaced older trash containers with 105 solar-powered compacting bins. This resulted in an average 23.7 percent recycling rate and a five-year payback in addition to a 13.3 percent annual return on investment.

--High-efficiency lighting equipment. ULI called high-efficiency lighting the most effective practice for reducing energy consumption, with a total of 351,553 megawatt-hours in expected annual savings and payback in less than one year.

--Reducing water usage. Building owners' efforts to reduce water consumption included "green" infrastructure systems. For example, Jamestown LP, Atlanta, invested more than $1 million in its Larkspur Landing Office campus in Larkspur, Calif., to renovate the landscape. The firm added drought-tolerant and native plants and retrofitted the irrigation system to employ drip irrigation.

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